Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with a glorious reflection on how God has spoken to us – “having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself,” (Eph. 1:9).
- We noticed in our previous study of the Christian armor that God’s revealed message is the foundation to every piece of protection that God’s provides. We cannot be successful in the battle without the word of the Commander and Chief. But it is also crucial that we communicate with our Commander from the battlefield. Prayer is that crucial communication. It does not surprise us to find prayer in Paul’s description of the spiritual armor of the Christian.
- Read carefully Ephesians 6:18-20 – 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints — 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
I. Prayer on the Battlefield– Prayer is the closing theme of Ephesians, and though closely related to God’s armor, it is not mentioned as part of it, because it is much more than that. Prayer is not merely another godly weapon, as important as those weapons are. How does prayer fit into the context of the spiritual battle? Why is it so important to the spiritual soldier, the Christian?
A. It is the all-pervasive strategy in which warfare is fought. The soldier is in constant prayer because he is fighting the enemy under the authority of his Commander and must follow His orders. “Crying out to God” – Consider an account in 1 Chron 5:18-22 18 The sons of Reuben, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh had forty-four thousand seven hundred and sixty valiant men, men able to bear shield and sword, to shoot with the bow, and skillful in war, who went to war. 19 They made war with the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. 20 And they were helped against them, and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, and all who were with them, for they cried out to God in the battle. He heeded their prayer, because they put their trust in Him. 21 Then they took away their livestock — fifty thousand of their camels, two hundred and fifty thousand of their sheep, and two thousand of their donkeys — also one hundred thousand of their men; 22 for many fell dead, because the war was God’s. And they dwelt in their place until the captivity.
- Israel was engaged in both physical and spiritual warfare. The tribes mentioned here are well prepared for the carnal, physical battle – 44,760 valiant men, able to bear the shield and sword, to shoot with the bow, skilful in war. By the outward standards it would appear that they could do what needed to be done.
- But the carnal warfare of Israel was never to stand on its own merit. God always expected Israel to trust Him to provide the victory. God’s people display their trust and humility through prayer. Although they were physically prepared, they were helped against their enemy (v. 20), and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, because they cried out to God in the battle.
1. Prayer is the proper preparation for the battle: There are several times in scripture when prayer is the proper preparation for spiritual conflict. (such as 1 Chron. 5)
- Moses: At the sight of the approaching Egyptian army at the Red Sea, Moses was crying out to God (Exodus 14)
- Samson was chained to the pillars of the Philistine temple and he prayed for the strength to overcome his enemies (Judges 16)
- David is often found seeking God’s counsel before the battle:
- at Keilah when Saul sought to capture him by surprise (1 Sam. 23);
- When he found the city of Ziglak burned by the Amalekites and his family kidnapped (1 Sam. 30);
- When the Philistines gathered to attack after they heard David had been anointed king (2 Sam. 5)
- Daniel and his friends when the King threatened to kill all of the wise men unless they were able to tell him and his dream and its interpretation (Dan. 2:18)
- Jesus as he faced the betrayal of Judas and the cross: Matt 26:36-42 – 36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” 39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” 40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
2. Prayer is the source of strength in the battle: Consistent prayer is a pipeline to spiritual strength. James says in James 4:2 that we do not have because we do not ask, or we ask amiss, so as to feed our physical desires. Psalms 138:3 – “In the day when I cried out You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.”
a. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be strengthened in the inner man – Ephesians 3:14-16 – For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,
b. God expects me to pray for strength to face temptation, and overcome evil in my life. Pray for wisdom to make good moral decisions. Matt 6:13 “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
3. Prayer is the response when we fail in the battle: For the Christian, pentitent prayer is the proper response when we sin. Acts 8:18-23 – And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
II. Return to the text of Ephesians 6: 18 – In the verses in Ephesians 6 that we just read Paul first gives believers some general instruction about prayer, then a specific illustration of prayer. Return to Eph. 6:18 – With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (NASU) You notice that in the New American Standard translation Paul is translated as using the word “all” four times in this verse. The four “alls” point to specific elements of prayer that describe our responsibility to pray:
A. with all prayer” – Both the Old and New Testaments mention many forms, circumstances, and postures for prayer but prescribes none. Jesus prayed while standing, while sitting, while kneeling, and quite probably in other positions as well.
1. There is no prescribed place for prayer. We can pray wherever we are and in whatever situation we are in. “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray” (1 Tim 2:8), For the Christian every place becomes a place of prayer.
a. The word “supplication” is a term indicating a specific request for help. God wants us to specifically ask Him about our needs. Sometimes we tend to generalize – takes less effort and time. Little girl who asked God to “bless everything in the world”.
B. “at all times” – The Jewish people of Paul’s day had several prescribed times for daily prayer, but apostolic teaching brought a new dimension to prayer as it did to everything else Jesus said in Luke 21:36 “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
1. Luke tells us that the early church “were continually devoting themselves.., to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The apostle assured Timothy, his beloved son in the Lord, that he prayed for him “night and day” (2 Tim 1:3).
2. To pray at all times obviously does not mean we are to pray in a formal way every waking moment. Jesus did not do that, nor did the apostles. And it certainly does not mean we are to devote ourselves to any mechanical or ritualistic forms of prayer, such as those recited mechanically from a prayer book or while counting beads. Jesus condemned “meaningless repetition” in prayer (Matt 6:7).
3. To pray at all times is to live in continual God consciousness, where everything we see and experience motivates us to speak to God about it.
- When we are tempted, we hold the temptation before God and ask for His help.
- When we experience something good or see something beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it.
- When we see evil around us, we pray that God will make it right and be willing to be used of Him to that end.
- When we meet an unbeliever, we pray for God for his conversion.
- Our life is characterized by a constant communing with our God in heaven. To pray at all times is to constantly set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col3:2).
C. “in the Spirit” – The most important and pervasive thought Paul gives about prayer is that it should be in the Spirit. This has nothing to do with speaking in tongues or in some other ecstatic manner. To pray in the Spirit is to line up our minds and desires with the Spirit’s mind and desires; which are consistent with the will of the Father and the Son. The power of prayer is with God, not us. There is no magic in the words, or even in our faith. The confidence we can have in prayer comes when we pray according to the will of God. (not as my will, but your will be done). As we submit to the Holy Spirit, obeying His Word and relying on His leading and strength, we can experience the power of prayer.
D. “with all perseverance” – Paul tells us we should pray “without ceasing”. This admonition points to the importance of not giving up on God. The verse more specifically means to not abandon prayer. We are to persevere in prayer.
1. Paul counseled the Colossians to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – NIV (Col 4:2). The Greek verb behind “devote” means to be steadfast, constant, and persevering. It is used of Moses’ faithful endurance when he led the children ofIsrael out ofEgypt (Heb 11:27). To be devoted to prayer is to earnestly, courageously, and persistently bring everything in our lives before God. We will look more closely at the connection between perseverance and prayer in a future lesson.
a. He urges us to be “alert” in our prayers. We must prayer intelligently, knowing what is happening around us. Notice Peter admonition in 1 Pet. 4:7 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be dear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. “(N IV) Do you know what is going on in your family? What about the lives of other Christians? How can we pray about it?
b. Most Christians never get serious about prayer until a problem arises in their own life or in the life of someone they love. Then they are inclined to pray intently, specifically, and persistently. Yet that is the way Christians should always pray.
c. What does the soldier in the foxhole pray about? If we are truly involved in a spiritual war, what would we be expected to pray about? It is certainly appropriate to bring physical needs before our heavenly Father, but our greatest focus should be for spiritual needs — for victory over temptation, for forgiveness and cleansing of sins already committed, for unbelievers to trust in Christ for salvation, and for believers to have greater dependence on Him.
E. “making supplication for all the saints” Paul mentions here the object of our prayer as “all the saints”. Why should we pray for each other? We are members of the same body, engaged in a common battle, and have a common salvation through Christ. We need to learn to share our concerns with each other so that we can offer prayer.
Conclusion: Paul doesn’t want them to waste any time getting busy praying. So he gives them an immediate application – Pray for me. I would leave you with the same request. Pray for me. I need God’s help. I will pray for you as well, as soldiers engaging a common enemy, in a fight for our lives. Let us communicate with our Commander and put our trust in Him.